Chapman as closer was always the safe way for Reds to go
The Reds faced a difficult decision with Aroldis Chapman, but returning him to the bullpen was always going to be the safe way to go. And now it appears the Reds will indeed begin 2013 with Chapman as their closer.
And, it appears, the Reds are ready to decide that Aroldis Chapman will close.
Put it that way, and it sounds so simple.
If only it were.
It's tons more complicated than that, which is why the Reds spent all spring debating the question. And why, even after the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Thursday morning that Chapman would move to the bullpen, Reds officials were cautioning that the discussions were continuing and no decision was final.
By Friday morning, though, sources familiar with the Reds plans said the decision is final now. Chapman will be the closer.
There's no doubt that using Chapman as closer is the safe way for the Reds to go. He's already proven he can close. No one can know for sure if he can be as good as a starter.
"The risk is in starting him," pitching coach Bryan Price said a few weeks back. "There's no risk in returning him to the bullpen."
And yet, Price favored taking that risk. Price favored it, and general manager Walt Jocketty favored it.
Why? Well, have you seen the price of top starting pitchers.
This is pretty simple, too: As the Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez contracts showed (and as Justin Verlander's next contract and Clayton Kershaw's next contract will show), baseball values front-end starters at $25 million a year or more.
The best closer in history, Mariano Rivera, has never made more than $15 million in a season.
Baseball people will tell you that you can always find a closer (although the Tigers might argue that point). Try to find a No. 1 starter, if you don't already have one.
The Reds, in fact, went out and found themselves another closer last summer. They traded for Jonathan Broxton, had him spend the second half of the year as Chapman's setup man, and when the season was over they gave him a $21 million, three-year contract.
The idea was that Chapman would start. But it quickly became apparent that there were a whole bunch of problems with that idea.
First off, Baker never seemed totally on board with it. Second, Chapman wasn't totally on board with it.
Besides that, there was always the question of whether Chapman's electric stuff would translate to the rotation. There are plenty of smart baseball people who will insist to you that it won't.
And then there's the biggest reason to keep Chapman in the bullpen:
The Reds won 97 games last year. From the time that Baker named Chapman closer in May, they were a baseball-best 77-46.
As Baker likes to point out, Chapman saved nearly half of those wins.
They know it works this way. It may well have worked even better the other way, but the Reds are a team with World Series expectations, and doing it the other way would have been a much bigger risk.
It's not a simple decision, not at all.
But in the end, the Reds seem to have made it as simple as possible.